July 6, 2018
Tonight we concluded Homily number 42 of St. Isaac the Syrian which focuses on the trials and afflictions that come both to the humble and the proud. Saint Isaac makes the distinction between the two and the fruit that each produces. Afflictions in those who are humble produce the fruit of patience. Whereas afflictions in those who are proud awaken the need for repentance. In many ways it is a deeply challenging Homily; so much so that St. Isaac feels compelled to say at the end “do not be angry with me that I tell you the truth. You have never sought out humility with your whole soul.” Our tendency is to look at affliction, temptations and trials in a punitive fashion; Whereas the Fathers seek to help us understand the medicinal and healing nature of such things and to see in them the promise of joy and ultimately deification.
July 13, 2017
Last night we picked up with Homily 13 which focused on initial effects of Stillness on the soul. For a brief period of time she is deprived of spiritual comfort as she begins to walk more and more in the darkness of faith and as God continues His work of purification. St. Isaac warns that the pursuit of Stillness must be something one sets oneself to cultivating for the rest of one's life. This is no avocation but something to which one commits the rest of their days.
Patience is needed so as not to fall into despondency and discouragement. One must persevere in prayer and look to the Fathers for direction and nourishment.
In Homily 14, St. Isaac tells us that the sign and fruit of true stillness is tears. The more one enters into the reality of the Kingdom and intimacy with God the more they pass into an inexpressible beauty and as baby born into this world weeps so does one who enters the stillness of God shed copious tears for years on end. Only then does a soul pass into peace of thought and the Holy Spirit begins to reveal heavenly things to her.
We began Homily 15 by discussing how one in the world and surrounded by its noise could cultivate this stillness. One must come to realize that the desert is not a geographical region but rather the heart. It is there that we must foster constant stillness and remove those things from our lives that inhibit its growth.
April 6, 2017
We continued discussing a beautiful section of Homily Five where St. Isaac develops his thought on the establishment of purity of heart and the virtues necessary to help it take root deeply. Practicality in our approach to daily circumstances must be set aside. Rather we must patiently endure the rebuke of others, insults and even false accusations. The ego must be set aside and there must be a willingness to experience humiliation. In the end we must let go of the illusion of our goodness and the demand and expectation of justice in this world; rather, we must cling to God and God alone as the source of identity and hope. A lengthy and spirited discussion ensued.
January 21, 2016
Cassian and Germanus continue their discussion of Cenobitism and Anchoritism with an elderly Abba Paul who had lived in solitude for 20 years only later to return to the common life of the Cenobium. While praising the anchoritic life and its possibilities for ardent prayer, Abba Paul states that the common life is marked with the evangelical disregard for the morrow and submission to the elder. Those living the common life are able to share the labor and a monastery becomes self-sufficient, allowing the monks simply to focus upon fulfilling the rule daily undisturbed. Living in obedience to an elder they also are able to better address the scourge of the anchoritic life which is being tempted by pride and vainglory. Anchorites often run the risk of becoming overly occupied with food and possessions since they do not have the common life to support them. Furthermore, anchorites are often besieged by visitors seeking counsel and do not have the enclosure to protect their solitude.
In any case, Abba Paul tells them that perfection in either life is a rare thing. The end of the cenobite is to put to death and to crucify all his desires and, in accordance with the Gospel precept to have no thought for the next day . . . But the perfection of the of the hermit is to have a mind bare of all earthly things and, as much as human frailty permits, to unite it with Christ.
Even after 20 years of solitude, Abba Paul return to the Cenobium; having seen fault lines in his own heart - worldly or carnal desires that he believed only the discipline of the common life could address. In the end, the cenobitic life was the "safer" path for him.
This conference like the last begins with a profound example of patience; unlike anything Cassian or Germanus had seen in their previous monastery and that must have deeply humbled these two travelers who had only spent 2 years in a monastery prior to seeking out the perfection of the East. A young monk bears a slap from one of the elders that echoed so loudly as to be heard and felt physically by the 200 monks gathered to celebrated the death anniversary of a former abba of the monastery. Not only did the young monk bear the humiliation patiently but with no physical or emotional sign of disturbance. How could Cassian and Germanus failed to be humbled in their pursuit of the ideal of solitude while confronted with the perfection of the cenobitic life unlike anything they encountered before?
A lengthy discussion ensued about how such teaching applies to the life and formation of those living in the world. What comes into sharp focus regardless of the specific path taken is the need to have Christ and the pursuit of purity of heart at the center of one's life and shaping its contours. Truly one may live in the world but one must not be of the world or shaped by it. How starkly different must the Christian life be in comparison to the secular!!